Extreme contrast with darktable

Since DT 3.0, I am using exclusively the new scene referred workflow in linear RGB.
However, there are cases where I still struggle to get good results, for example in landscape images with extreme contrast where I don’t want to blow or crush any part of the image.
In fact every RAW converter has a hard time in this case.
Take the following image (Monastery of St. Benedict in Italy)

This file is licensed Creative Commons, By-Attribution, Share-Alike.
DSC05578_02.ARW.xmp (10.5 KB)
DSC05578.ARW (24.0 MB)

In order not to blow the monastery facade in the sunset light, while keeping a decent readability of the valley on the right in shadow, I had to fiddle a lot with Tone equalized and Filmic RBG.
For example in the latter I had to completely reduce the contrast down to 1.0.
Although the result looks quite decent to me (no visible halos !), I am not sure this the smartest way to operate is such condition, so I am curious to see what you guys suggest.
I’m only interested in using linear RBG modules for tone manipulation, but of course feel free to add Lab color manipulation modules after Filmic, I did it as well.



Not sure why you had to fiddle a lot, I guess it depends what you are trying to achieve. The valley can be brightened up fairly easily just by setting the mask on the tone equaliser to cover the dark parts of the valley and raise the exposure there. This is a fairly quick edit, maybe you can comment on whether it is the look you are going for?

DSC05578.ARW.xmp (13.2 KB)


with DT 3.2.1 using the new scene refered workflow but also with color ajustments at the end
Thanks @MarcoNex for posting this shot. It’s always interesting to play with some new challenges in order to test the new features and to push the software (and the user :slight_smile: ) to the limits …

DSC05578.ARW.xmp (18.0 KB)


DSC05578.ARW.xmp (13.3 KB) !

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Thanks for sharing. Was a good exercise.

DSC05578.ARW.xmp (7.9 KB)

Thanks for this image! I went for a “natural”, less saturated look. Because the dynamic range was not that high, I tried to fix it without filmic (just exposure and color balance).

DSC05578.ARW.xmp (8.4 KB)

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Thanks for sharing, beautiful picture!

DSC05578.ARW.xmp (20.2 KB) (dt 3.2.1)

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Thank you for a beautiful image. I really like it the way it started! But, here is my attempt: exposure, color balance, filmicrgb, and color zones. Then, maybe I cheated, but I moved to GIMP and took a final shot at the colors.

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What sort of colour tweaking did you do in GIMP?

DSC05578.ARW.xmp (15.9 KB)

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Well, I didn’t really do anything except click Color -> Auto -> Color Enhance. It looked better, so I kept it. :frowning:

Later. I just got a new PC, and I just now found darktable 3.2.1 for my distro. I redid my work carefully in darktable, only, still using only exposure, color balance, color zones, and filmic rgb. I like this one much better.

DSC05578_01.ARW.xmp (6.1 KB)

I’d suggest to use tone equaliser to bring up the exposure a bit in the shadows in the valley. Check out @Bruce_Williams video on YouTube for a good introduction to tone equaliser if you are not familiar with that module — it uses a guided filter based on a mask, and as usual Bruce explains how to use it in quite practical terms.

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DSC05578.ARW.xmp (14.2 KB)

Perhaps I’ve gone a bit too far with the shadows, but I like to preserve my natural perception of detail in the shade. It’s a struggle with every midday summer landscape.

Thank you for sharing!

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Thank you all for the edits, I analysed them one by one and Indeed I found inspiration, especially in the way some of you used Color Balance to compress dynamic range.
Also, personally I don’t like the result when local adjustment modules are used too heavily, and this includes the tone equalizer. I find the result too obviously digital if the adjustments are more than +/- 1EV approx.
I figured out a possible workflow that would work in these cases:

  1. In exposure: adjust for the midtones (area of interest)
  2. In filmic, adjust white and black levels. I found easier to do that by setting contrast = 1.0 and possibly contrast in shadows/highlights = soft
    This will set the dynamic range at the expense of local contrast. Then I have to recover local contrast
  3. turn on Local Contrast
  4. In Color Balance, further compress the dynamic range by using the factor sliders and tradeoff the gained room for more contrast in the midtones, can be done in CB itself or in filmic
  5. If necessary, use (midly) the tone equalizer with a sine shaped curve, to help compressing the DR. Again, use the room created to get more contrast in midtones

I got this edit with the above procedure, which I like more than my initial one.


@MarcoNex Thanks for this thread. I’ve been having the same issue with filmic and high dynamic range myself. Posted a similarly difficult image in much earlier stages of filmic. I’m going to try your method.

What has surprised me a bit with filmic is that I understood is as a tone mapping tool but it’s quite difficult to map tones with it :wink: At least if those tones are towards black.

I share your views on local tools as well. It’s so very easy to make the image look ‘wrong’. If possible I avoid local edits. Filmic feels a bit like first you break your image then you build it back up when it’s weak and has no ability to defend itself.

I cheated by using RawTherapee :wink:
DSC05578.jpg.out.pp3 (13.5 KB)

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Sorry to follow @heckflosse behaviour :roll_eyes:
Using ART

a-DSC05578-1.jpg.arp (10.8 KB)


Well, it’s a play raw, isn’t it? Everything allowed :wink:


If OP asks for something specific, we should keep it in mind, but I also see no problems here. If OP isn’t interested in a different software they can simply ignore it. :slight_smile:


Thanks very much. I watched that video and I’m sure I learned from it. I’ll try to use what I learned on this image…

Later - This is what I got using only tone equalizer and filmic rgb. @Bruce_Williams 's video gave me the info to make all the difference. Thank you, again, and thank you, Bruce. I intend to watch many more of your video presentations.

DSC05578_02.ARW.xmp (5.3 KB)